Dutch Environment Secretary sets out priorities for EU Presidency

Dutch Secretary of State for the Environment, Pieter Van Geel laid out his priorities for the rest of his term in the Dutch Presidency of the EU, at a meeting of the European Parliament's Environment Committee.

Mr Van Geel said that his motto for the Dutch Presidency is “the environment as opportunity” and said he would try to avoid the traditional conflict between economic and environmental interests.

He said a mixture of instruments should be deployed to create new markets in sustainable, innovative products:

“We should focus first and foremost on green procurement policies, fiscal incentives and green investment. It is also important to work for better internalisation of environmental costs and the abolition of subsidies that harm the environment.”

He added that he had agreed with all of his Council colleagues that “we should each persuade our fellow ministers of the importance of viewing the environment as a source of opportunity.”

“My ultimate goal is for the Spring European Council to endorse the proposition that eco-efficient innovations offer opportunities to strengthen the competitiveness of the Union. I hope that the European Parliament will support the idea,” he said.

Mr Van Geel outlined transport, REACH, and climate change as the three main areas of concern for his term.

Air pollution, noise nuisance and greenhouse gas emissions are the main problems associated with road transport, and it was essential to get the subject back on the European agenda, he said.

For REACH Mr Van Geel said he would work closely with colleagues at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs to develop a coherent policy on chemicals. Policy debates will be held on REACH at the Competitiveness Council on 25 and 26 November, and in the Environment Council on 20 December.

“In REACH too it is important to avoid any semblance of conflict between the interests of the economy and those of the environment. I hope to use the Environment Council meeting to reveal agreements and differences between Member States on key parts of the proposal, such as ‘registration’, ‘data sharing’ and the avoidance of unnecessary animal testing, and the general aspects of REACH.”

On climate change, Mr Van Geel said there were two main areas in which the EU is playing a key role – firstly by implementing the Kyoto Protocol and its various mechanisms such as emissions trading, and also by focusing attention on climate policy in the longer term.

“In December this year, the tenth conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 10) is due to take place in Buenos Aires. One of its tasks will be to assess the results of the convention over the last ten years and challenges for the future. The main result so far has been the Kyoto Protocol and the Marrakesh Accords. But the Protocol is only a first step and emissions will have to be reduced even more after 2012.”

He added that the Parliament, Council and Commission were looking at other new approaches and instruments to improve environmental performance, not just emissions trading, which all interface with the idea of ‘environment as opportunity’.

In addition to these three main themes, Mr Van Geel he was looking at a draft proposal for a Mining Waste Directive, the proposed directive on fluorinated gases, and expects to be discussing the Draft Directive on Batteries and Accumulators.

“Personally I am in favour of a blanket ban on all batteries containing cadmium provided there are adequate alternatives, but as Council president it is my job to seek a compromise that takes due account of the positions of all the Member States,” he said.

He finished by saying he would be visiting various political and business players over the next few months to listen to their experiences and views.

By David Hopkins

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